20 June 2003

there is another king: viii

(ironically enuf in lite of da next p0st down, this bit ain't very well writ yet n still in progress, but i thot i shud p0st sumthin)

In this context we can reflect upon the Good News of the kingdom as involving the “forgiveness of sin” and Paul’s Gospel as directly concerning “justification.” These two, closely related categories are the obverse side, as it were, of Jesus’ death and resurrection by which he was vindicated as Israel’s messiah and Lord of the world.

Since Israel remained in disarray and as exiles in their own land as a result of her sin and apostasy, “forgiveness of sins” is part and parcel of return from that exile, of the vindication and restoration, and advancement of the kingdom that Israel expected and her God had promised. This eschatology, however, was realized in an unexpected way in Jesus as Israel’s messiah, through the way of the cross, leading to his own resurrection and enthronement, events by which God declared that sin had been forgiven and that Jesus was in the right before the divine court. Since Israel represented all of adamic humanity, Israel’s restoration in the messiah’s resurrection, in turn, was also the means by which the human race as a whole was, in the person of Jesus, restored from its exile from paradise, forgiven and vindicated before the divine court, and advanced to the kind of dominion-through-service for which it was created.

Thus the end of history is already accomplished in the midst of history in the person of Jesus as messiah: the true Israel and the true humanity. Moreover, as Paul emphasizes in Romans, these events reveal the remarkable “righteousness” or “justice of God” (e.g., Rom 1:16-17), God’s own faithfulness to his covenant promises to Israel and the human race, acting as righteous judge, setting the world aright. As such, the doctrine of justification has political implications for both Israel and the wider world.

With regard to Israel, it shows that God’s justice—yearned for by the psalmists and prophets—is not a vindictive justice that favored Israel at the expense of the Gentile nations or one that condoned Israel’s own apostasy. Rather, it shows that Jew and Gentile alike were bound over to sin so that God could shower mercy upon all. This would have profound implications for Israel’s relationship with the Gentiles, relativizing ethnic, political, and ritual boundaries, particularly as Jew and Gentile were woven together in the church.

With regard to the wider world, Paul’s message of justification—particularly as addressed to the church at Rome—questions prevailing notions of justice, Rome’s divinized pretensions to house the goddess Iustitia, and the exercise of that virtue within the empire. The Gospel then calls upon those seeking a true measure of justice to place their ultimate allegiance with Jesus as Lord and savior, rather than the emperor or senate (and Paul’s comments on the civil magistracy in Romans 13 must be read in this wider context, designed to preclude misreading his polemic as negating all human civil authority under God).

Thus, once again, the Gospel and the doctrine of justification it entails, reveal a reconfiguration of political values. With these points in hand, we can now turn to how the Gospel takes shape in the people of God as the church.